Over 100 UC Santa Barbara students, faculty and community members joined the UC-wide academic workers’ strike on June 3 in a campus rally, denouncing the conduct of UC administration in response to pro-Palestinian encampments. UCSB is the fifth UC alongside UC San Diego to go on strike, called on by the United Auto Workers Local 4811 graduate student union.

UC Santa Barbara is the 5th UC to join the UAW local 4811 academic workers strike in protest of UC conduct in response to pro-Palestinian encampments. Anushka Ghosh Dastidar / Daily Nexus.

United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4811 is made up of 48,000 graduate students who work as teaching assistants, tutors and researchers across the 10 UC campuses. In response to their call, approximately 31,500 graduate students are now on strike UC-wide.

The strikes follow the union’s filing of Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) — actions that unions can file to address violations of  federal labor law — against the UC on May 3 after pro-Palestinian protestors at UCLA faced physical attacks from pro-Israel counter protesters the night before. Some used makeshift weapons with plywood or poles, sprayed chemicals and shot fireworks at the pro-Palestinian protestors.

Police responded to the violence three hours after it began, despite alerts beforehand and calls during the escalation. When officers from California Highway Patrol arrived at the scene, they dispersed the encampment — arresting 200 students, launching flares and shooting rubber bullets into the crowd. Several UCLA students and academic workers involved now face criminal charges and probationary actions. 

The ULPs were later amended in the following weeks to include administrative violations at UC San Diego and UC Irvine after pro-Palestinian protestors were met with disciplinary actions. 

UC workers authorized a series of rolling strikes — where some workers go on strike while others continue to work — in a May 13-15 vote. Since then, UAW Local 4811 and the University have both filed ULPs against each other to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), with the University citing “no-strike” clauses in workers’ contracts. PERB has denied multiple injunction filings from the University since then. 

The strike comes two and a half years after the 2022 UAW strikes for increased wages — the largest strike in higher education history.

Around 50 attendees, including undergraduate and graduate students, assembled on the library steps at 9 a.m. for the strike. The group propped up signs at the Engineering 2 Building, the Physics Building and Cheadle Hall, reading, “UC Loves Police,” “Workers rights are under attack” and “Injunction denied.” 

At 10 a.m. and again at 10:50 a.m., the group marched in a circle in front of the library with picket signs, chanting, “Whose University? Our University,” “No justice, no peace. No UC police,” “Drop the charges, cut the ties! The workers stand with Palestine,” and more.

Members of the Student Assistant Labor United (SALU) led a teach-in at 11 a.m. on undergraduate labor organizing and solidarity. Speakers detailed the process of collecting authorization cards and rallying support from coworkers as a means of collective bargaining, or negotiations with employers – in this case, the UC.

Several ULPs have been filed against the UC by UAW Local 4811, who has filed ULPs back at the union for breaking a “no-strike” clause. Sara Stevens / Daily Nexus

The main action of the day, a rally, began at noon at the library steps, with an audience of approximately 250 participants. UCSB Department of Religious Studies graduate student and UAW rank-and-file member Emma Hanlon kicked off the rally by claiming the UC did not protect students at encampments and overstepped with disciplinary actions, like suspensions.

“The UC continues to revert to violence and repression as its only means of communicating with its students,” Hanlon said. “Until the UC chooses a different way of communicating with the students and workers, we will stop working for them.”

Third-year sociology major and Students for Justice in Palestine President Jwan Haddad spoke of UAW’s involvement with Palestinian activism historically, referencing how UAW Local 2865, one of two former academic worker unions that merged into UAW Local 4811, was the first local union to pass a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution in 2014. It was reaffirmed by UAW’s statewide council in 2021.

“Workers are the backbone of our movement just as Palestinian workers have always been the backbone of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice,” Haddad said. “For nine months straight, students, workers and community members have been organizing to create spaces of collective grieving and collective liberation.”

The group then marched through North Hall, deemed “Malcolm X Hall” by student activists, to the Student Affairs/Administrative Services Building. The building is where “most administrative work by the university takes place,” Department of Religious Studies graduate student and UAW Local 4811 rank-and-file member Laura Snell said.

Third-year aquatic biology major and SALU leader Jasmine Rebollar cited UCSB’s refusal to acknowledge the SALU union — then the Student Dining Labor Union — in February despite a supermajority of support from dining hall workers, as an example of failure by the UC to support students.

“Where’s the UC in all of this while students are getting brutalized by police? Nowhere to be found,” Rebollar said. “The UC time and time again has failed to protect its students. It’s failed to listen to the needs of its students.”

Over 100 individuals participated in the afternoon rally. Lizzy Rager / Daily Nexus.

From there, the group marched toward the UCSB Liberated Zone encampment and gathered on the lawn outside Buchanan Hall, in front of the Eternal Flame. The encampment, which has lasted for 34 days, has yet to make progress on its demands for UCSB. The demands are to break all ties with major defense contractors, disclose its finances and partnerships and reinvest in programs that support students.

Liberated Zone member and undergraduate student Evan — who wished to be identified by first name only — said students are exercising their right to “be loud” and “disrupt.” Evan encouraged undergraduates to get involved with the movement as a show of solidarity against the University’s actions.

“There is no excuse and no justification for the administration to ignore the voices of the community. We must show solidarity for all movements fighting for Palestinian liberation and all movements protecting the rights of our protesters,” Evan said.

The march continued to the Engineering Two Building as protestors recited chants specifically calling out the engineering and physics departments. The departments are the recipients of grants and donations from military contractors like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, which  frequently recruit UCSB students.

Materials graduate student Madeline Vailhe described her passion for her research on metal fatigue, as it has the potential to prevent life-threatening accidents. She said all graduate students should have the freedom to choose if their research supports war.

“A lot of my colleagues are stuck doing research which supports weapons of war. Union members have been fighting for a system for academic workers who want to switch their research area to have the support and resources to do so,” Vailhe said. “We should have the right to protest UC’s complicity in war and death. We should have a right to work on research which creates a more just and fair world.”

Vailhe also said that the reformed graduate worker contracts brought about by the historic UAW Local 4811 strikes in 2022 are not being upheld by the University. Specifically, that 

Picketers marched past Harold Frank Hall, through the Paseo East entrance of the library back to their original meeting location. Some picketers beat drums and chanted “Up, up, up, with the workers. Down, down, down with the bosses,” as they marched through the library.

Speakers asked students to email professors and ask them to sign departmental solidarity statements. Anushka Ghosh Dastidar / Daily Nexus.

Global studies professor, Academics for Justice in Palestine member and Workers in Palestine organizer Charmaine Chua closed the rally on top of the library steps with the promise to withhold student grades in her classes in “joint struggle” with the strike. According to Chua, UCSB professors are withholding a total of 3,854 grades as of June 3. She also encouraged students to email their professors expressing their support for the strike and implore their departments to sign solidarity statements.

“Israel has targeted and killed over 5,000 academics, over 6,000 students and destroyed schools even when those schools are used as shelters in an act of scholasticide targeting education in Gaza,” Chua said. “Why would faculty want to pick up struck work and grade fucking final exams when genocide is happening before our eyes?”

“We refuse to let a university whose endowments and history is dripping in the blood of centuries of war. We say to them, ‘no more business as usual,’” Chua continued.

Undergraduate students attended the rally in support, including those who witnessed the historic UAW Local 4811 strikes in 2022. 

Fourth-year history of public policy and law major Sarah Margaron was “heavily involved” with the 2022 strike as the lead director of undergraduates for Cost-of-Living-Adjustment, and said that ULPs against the University for police brutality and safety in 2022 were also not addressed.

“I’m back out here with the same people that I was here with a year ago, trying to make the same changes that we’ve been fighting for a long time,” Margaron said. 

Second-year undeclared student and Off-Campus Senator Dominic Wang emphasized that though undergraduates may be bothered by the strike affecting courses, they should remember ULPs could be committed against them.

“In the case of UC Santa Cruz, UCLA, they were committed against you. Cops showed up. Zionists showed up and literally brutalized and beat … and harassed students, including undergrads,” Wang said. “We are not exempt from this. This is a fight for all of us.”

Snell said rallying is the most effective way to advocate for the rights of workers as well as students. 

“I live for moments of solidarity, and I’m very invested in labor organizing. And I believe with a lot of conviction that strikes are how we defend our rights as workers. And in the context of being academic workers and teachers and researchers, they’re also part of how we defend our students,” Snell said.

The group plans to continue picketing Monday through Friday every week until the strike is called off.

The Nexus will continue to report on this topic as more information becomes available.

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Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at lizzyrager@dailynexus.com
Anushka Ghosh Dastidar
Anushka Ghosh Dastidar (she/her) is the Lead News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. Previously, Ghosh Dastidar was the Community Outreach News Editor for the 2023-24 school year and the Assistant News Editor for the 2022-2023 school year. She can be reached at anushkagd@dailynexus.com or news@dailynexus.com.